I grew up on a farm that had a long gravel driveway. The advantage to the long driveway was that in the evening we could see the headlights of any car headed our way. My mom had us trained to pick up the house in the amount of time it took for a car to drive down the driveway. This was back in the day when people just dropped by; a neighbor, a relative, a stranger. Daytime or nighttime my parents would welcome them with a “c’mon in!” Conversation and coffee at the kitchen table came next. It might have been the “Watkins” traveling salesman, the pastor, Uncle Lester, the 1970 census worker, or the TV repairman (always an emergency at our house). It didn’t matter who it was, after that initial “c’mon in” the conversation was always warm, honest, and unrushed.
I had the pleasure this week to teach on the topic of “Self-care” to fifteen registered nurses taking our Foundations of Faith Community Nursing course. I spent some time discussing spiritual disciplines with them. In my course preparation I was captivated by the writings of Marjorie J. Thompson in Soul Feast (a fabulous book study I’m currently doing with faith community nurses). She talks about the concept of hospitality as a spiritual discipline.
First, let me explain how I personally define a spiritual discipline. It’s not something you do to get closer to God. God took care of that with his promise of “Lo, I am with you always till the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 Spiritual disciplines feed your spirit. Just like you eat and drink to feed your body; you study, stay connected with others, read, and problem solve to feed your mind; you pray, worship, sing, contemplate, and more to feed your spirit. All of this feeding in all these forms is essential to whole person health. Spiritual disciplines feed and refresh that grand corridor that I wrote about in my first post. That grand corridor which the ancient Greeks believed carried words directly from one’s ears straight to the heart.
So then what about hospitality? I’m not going to suggest that you need to make a discipline of taking a casserole to your neighbors every week, though they would probably love it. Author Marjorie J. Thompson shares a beautiful historical definition of showing hospitality to strangers:
“Hospitality in biblical times was understood to be a way of meeting and receiving holy presence. Although providing hospitality was risky,it was a risk taken in faith. After all, the stranger just might be an angel—a messenger of God.”
This definition sounds crazy in a world where we emphatically teach our children to “not talk to strangers.” Even as adults we default to following that admonition rather than listening to the nudging inside of us to reach out to the stranger. And who are “strangers” to us today? Are they not only those whose names we don’t know, but are they also neighbors that are different than us, classmates that are loners, or family members whose choices are strange to us?
Ponder these words from the Soul Feast author:
“Hospitality means receiving the other, from the heart, into my own dwelling place.”
This is more that just getting the living room picked up for the car that is coming down the driveway. This is clearing the way to our hearts, our dwelling place. Being ready to say “c’mon in” and share who we are warmly, honestly, and unrushed.
What will you receive in return? You just might get an angel and some holy presence.
Hebrews 13:2: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.